Tuesday, 6 January 2009

On Prayer and Magic: Our Universe as a Demonstration Garden

My friend is in the hospital tonight with her small baby. The baby has been having seizures, and my friend, not a Christian, has been praying. The only problem is, she says, if she notices an improvement in the baby, she can't tell if it's the medicine or the praying that's making things better.

Why does our praying seem so impotent? Why are the things we ask for so sporadically granted? Why do we need to pray to a God who is supposed to know already what we mean to ask for?

What does it mean to pray, anyway? Shall I beg God to do things my way? Will he wait, like a dog trainer, while I shake a paw, before he drops down a little blessing-biscuit from heaven? Can I believe that he, forgetful, need be reminded of my desires? Is it possible that He who is also called Love must be pleaded with to give good things?

If this is true, how can he be God? If my own flesh-and-blood father, whose love is imperfect, takes pleasure in giving me good things even to his own hurt, can I expect less from the God who created fathers?

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:7-11)

But we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I used to live near a demonstration garden. It was planted and maintained by those who wanted to show what could be grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, and how earth-friendly habits like composting could be used to grow food and flowers. More than simply beautiful, the garden was practical on a number of levels. It grew healthy food. It also took its premises out of the realm of philosophy and into real life. It offered proof of what was possible, and ultimately, what was preferable. It taught people how earth-friendly principles could be made to work with their own lifestyles and used in their own gardens. The gardeners could have, with much less work, bought chemical fertilizer. They could have omitted the walkways and signs and instead, planted more seeds. But they weren't in the business of simply growing large numbers of things. Their goal was to demonstrate the best way of growing things sustainably.

Earth is a demonstration garden in our universe. Long ago, some, making the mistake of thinking that it is God's power that makes him God, questioned his right to absolute rule. They did this by a challenge to his power. Had God met that challenge with a display of his infinite might, he would have won - but in winning, he would actually have lost, because he would have proved that power was indeed the basis of his infinite right to rule. Instead, He who is Love lay down power and held Love up to meet the challenge.

God is in the process of showing that Love is not only the most powerful force, it is also the dearest and the best and the most beautiful, the most profound, the most pure, the most precious thing in the universe; infinitely worthy of all that may be sacrificed to it and for it. Like the earth-friendly gardeners who grow things without chemical help (not because they don't have access to it, but because they want to show that it is not as important as we think), God has subordinated his power (not because he lacks power, but because he is showing that it is not his power that makes him worthy). As Love, he is inherently worthy to reign. His right to rule is not only rooted in his power, but in his essence. He is not content to settle challenges with force.

Instead, he sets up what is really a bit of a panorama-box - what you and I call the Milky Way galaxy. In it is a little planet called Earth, populated by creatures called humans. Humans have all of the attributes of God which are not related to either power or love. The most important of these attributes are personality and the power to choose. On earth, all that is not God is allowed freedom to present itself - to lay out its claims, to show its power, and demonstrate its superiority to God; to Love. God's power, and all other power, is unleashed as it is chosen by humans.

It is interesting to note that the Bible does not say "all things work together for good to those that God loves", because that would leave both the love and the power in God's hands. Instead, it says that all things work together for the good of those who love God. The great forces of the universe, which belong to Love, work together for good to those that choose Love.

When I pray, I am not begging God to have pity on me, and use his power to help me. I am simply offering the choice I have as a channel for Love. When I pray for another person, I identify myself with them. I link their good and my good. To the extent that I allow God to work for my good, he is then able to work for their ultimate good.

Does this mean that if I choose God, I will get everything I want? No. It means that if I choose God, who is Love, then Love is what I want - and I will get that. To the extent that I choose it, I will receive Love. The struggle in prayer, is never with God - it is with my own will and my desire for power. Through prayer, I offer my desires to God. He is then free to revise them and allow me to take on his desires. If I choose, I can want what Love wants.

In choosing Love, I say that Love is the greatest good. It is greater than all my wants. It is greater than power - my power to reject it and serve myself. I demonstrate that even if it makes me powerless, love is worth it. And then all of Love's might is set loose to work for my good. Not for my pleasure, which is power; but for my good, which is Love.

Our problem with prayer is that we want to treat it like magic. Magic is power. It must be coaxed; conjured. It must be used and manipulated. The magician is tricked into thinking he is greater than his magic, but he is natural and it is supernatural: he is the one who is used in the end. Prayer is just the opposite. When I have struggled with my self, and subordinated my own will to my choices, then I need only lie down become a road for Love's trucks to roll through on. They are waiting at the portal. In praying, I wield no power, no control. I need not coax or beg. I am neither beggar nor magician, but a child receiving good gifts - gifts chosen with such love that they might be carrots when I ask for candy.

When I pray, bending my spirit before Love and subordinating my power to Love, I thus give Love a right to be in this world; a place in which to do the work of loving. When I pray, I open up the doors of my life and my heart to God. In telling him my desires, I give them to him. I allow him to fulfill them or, if they are less than Good, to sacrifice them. When I pray, I give my choice back to God, and allow him to give the good he longs to give.


joeyanne said...

utterly amazing!! I have never heard prayer so wonderfully described before.

Anonymous said...

Finally, someone describes prayer in an understandable way. It always bothered me to think of prayer as a magic way to get whatever I want.
You go girl!

Bobble said...

I really enjoyed this post, Jen. I still have questions and don't completely understand prayer, but this is great. Thank you.

Join the Journey said...

Great stuff!

Would like to invite you to take a look at the site we're creating - with God in mind - www.jointhejourney.cc - perhaps we can use your material there.

Please follow-up - adam.r.cole1023@gmail.com

God bless you for your passion and using your gifts for His glory!